How to Create and Organize Lightroom Collections

Now that your images and folders are reconnected to the catalog, it’s time to organize them into collections. 

Here’s what we’ll discuss in the following lesson:

  • The easiest method for organizing your existing images into collections.
  • How to plan, create and maintain a collection hierarchy that accommodates YOUR workflow.
  • How to automate the image organization process into collections..specifically with smart collections.

Before You Start Sorting Collections

1:55Tips on Using Collections
2:42Collections vs. Folders
4:02Deleting Collections Will Not Delete Images

Creating Your Lightroom Collection Hierarchy

0:00Limitations of a Single Hierarchy
0:50Using the “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” Hierarchy System
1:47Overview of How to Organize Collections Into a Hierarchy with Sets
4:11The Collection Panel is Alphanumerical

Using Lightroom Smart Collections the Right Way

0:00Setting Up a Smart Collection
2:10Not Every Image Belongs in a Collection
2:59Colllections Can Be Nested Into Multiple Levels

Ideas for Your Lightroom Collection Hierarchy

0:00Using an Existing Collection/Folder as Your Source for a Smart Collection
1:38Using a “Best of” Hierarchy
1:54Smart Collections for Images That Have Not Been Processed Yet
4:45The “None” Smart Collection Rule to Exclude Images That Match a Condition
6:11Smart Collections for External Programs (Photoshop Files)
6:52Smart Collections to Correct Mistakes in Bulk

How to Organize Your Existing Lightroom Collections

0:00Moving and Renaming Collections in the Panel
1:03Adding a New Collection in an Existing Set
1:46Adding Images to a Collection Manually
3:32Color Labels for Organization
7:22Keeping Track of Images You Haven’t Organized Yet
8:03Deleting Multiple Collections at Once

Keeping Your Collections Organized Moving Forward

0:00Adding New Images to Your Collection Hierarchy
1:10Gathering Images That Need Sorting
2:40Selecting, Adding, and Removing Images From a Collection


ASSIGNMENT: Create and Organize Your Collection Hierarchy

1. Plan and Create Your Collection Hierarchy

  • Create collection sets using the “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” system. The exact topics you choose will depend on how you organize your images.
  • The top of your collection hierarchy should cast a wide net, and get more restrictive (specific) as you travel down the collection tree.
  • Choose collection hierarchies that can be used in conjunction with keywords, not as a replacement for them.
  • Collection hierarchies are not just about gathering images by content. You can use them to gather images by purpose (i.e. images you’ve printed).
  • You don’t have to plan all your collection hierarchies right now. You can always add, consolidate, and reorganize them as your library grows.
  • To create a new collection:
    • Select the images you want to put in the new collection (if applicable). Use library filters and sorting to pull up those images more easily.
    • Press CMD + N or click the plus sign at the top of your Collections panel, and select Create Collection.
  • To create a new collection set:
    • Press the plus sign at the top of the collection panel.
    • Select Create Collection Set.
    • Name your collection set, and decide whether or not to nest it in an existing collection set.
    • Once created, you can select and drag collections to be nested inside of the collection set.
  • When clicking on a collection set in the panel, all images nested within that set will populate the grid view (as opposed to a single collection).

2. Organize Your Existing Collections into the New Hierarchies

  • Through the right-click context menu, you can do the following to a collection:
    • Rename the collection.
    • Export the collection as its own catalog.
    • Set as Target Collection.
    • Duplicate the Collection.
    • Delete the collection.
  • Deleting a collection will not delete the content of the collection from your catalog; it only deletes that particular reference (or bookmark) to the image(s).
  • Create a “To Be Organized” collection set to gather random collections that do not have a hierarchy yet.
  • Use color labels to keep track of collections you’ve organized into your new hierarchies.
  • Not every image needs to be put into collections, so don’t create/keep collections that you’ll never use.

3. Add Images to Your New Collection Hierarchies

  • To put images into an existing collection:
    • Select the images you wish to add to a collection.
    • Right-click on the collection in the panel and select “Add Selected Photos to this Collection”, or:
    • Click and drag images from the grid view or film strip and drop them onto the collection.
  • Take advantage of your library filters, choose more restrictive sources, and change your sorting order to better populate the grid with the exact images you wish to add to a collection.
  • Create a “To Be Organized” collection set, and add newly imported images into these collections so you can easily see which images still need to be organized.
  • Automate the image organization process as much as possible by using smart collections with rules and conditions.
  • Images can be in more than one collection at a given time, so add them to multiple hierarchies if it applies.

“The Darkroom” is Now Open for Enrollment

How to Create and Organize Lightroom Collections

The lesson above is just a small sample of what you’ll find in The Darkroom for Landscapes…my private mentorship program for Lightroom and Photoshop.

If you’d like to become more comfortable, more competent, and more confident with Lightroom and Photoshop than you’ve ever been…

I encourage you to see if The Darkroom is right for you, because it’s a lot simpler than you think.

6 thoughts on “How to Create and Organize Lightroom Collections”

  1. I am very impressed with your videos. I have done lessons 1 and 2 so far in Cleaning up your Lightroom Catalog. They are so well organized. You present the information in clear, concise terms with no ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ and no stumbling. You give good suggestions of things to try and use examples to illustrate a point. As a former educator, I recognize the amount of work you put into this and how well you present the material. Highly recommend any of your programs (if they are anything like this one) to all.

  2. Elizabeth Coughlan

    Thank you so much for these videos, but I wish I had known all this before amassing 69,695 images in my Lightroom catalogue. Fortunately, in these days of lockdown, I now have time to sort it all out.

  3. This has expanded my understanding of Lightroom. Wonderful!

    Now, my big question about my original image files. When I began with Lightroom a long time ago, I divided everything into two mega folders, call them incoming images and finished images. The first was based on shoot date and the second on who/what/where, etc. Once done editing a select image in a given date-based subfolder, I exported jpg’s to finished side in the subject based subfolders and erased images I rejected. Now I see that I basically have two large sets of each good image, one in incoming megafolder and one or more of each edit version in the finished megafolder. (More than one in finished if image was cropped to 8×10 and one square for instance.). This seems crazy now. I had reasoned to never lose the original image file. Yes, I have gone back 10 years and reprocessed with new noise reduction software on the original sometimes. But is that reason to keep so much history?

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